Lessons From A Not-So-Theology-Major
The theology and philosophy core requirements at Notre Dame serve more of a purpose than simply teaching students about God and reason. The truths inherent in philosophy and theology are broader than just the words of the New Testament, and Soren Kierkegaard. I know from experience, that my education without those truths, would have been aimless and egotistical.
One only needs to read the story of Howard Roark in Ayn Rand’s “Fountainhead” to understand the lonely path that many great architects take. They rely entirely on their own talent and creative power for inspiration. If they search for a genuine “human element” in their designs, they seek it from their own person, and not from history or tradition. Such was the path that my architecture education at Notre Dame was taking, until I found certain un-questionable truths to inspire me and my creativity.
My first theology course at Notre Dame was a continuation of my previous 12 years of Catholic education. Much of the material I knew already. The knowledge was basic and did not call me to think outside the box. My first philosophy course forced me to read and think in creative ways that I had never done before. However, my heart and mind were not quite mature enough yet. I was still trying to discover who I was, and therefore, the truths I found were not internalized.
I would not ultimately take my second theology and philosophy courses until my fourth and fifth years, after I had had a chance to spend a summer counseling at Notre Dame Vision, taken two trips to Appalachia to build homes, taught Math and learned Rutooro during my ISSLP in Kyarusozi, Uganda, studied abroad in Rome, experienced two critical and painful deaths in my family, and began and ended two formative dating relationships with Notre Dame girls. A lot of life happens during four years (and in my case, 5 years) of college. Our lives and vocations become more focused, our friend-groups become more solidified, and our maturity hopefully grows. It was at this juncture that philosophy and theology steered me in the direction that my wonderful life has taken ever since.
G.K. Chesteron (through the masterful teaching of David Fagerberg) taught me to inject my abundance of joy into every facet of my life, including architecture, and to defend that joy with a genuine apologetic understanding of Christ’s love. That joy ultimately led me to finding a new girlfriend that semester (who is now my wife and the mother of my child). Chesterton taught me to remove my ego from my work, and to trust in the beauty of traditions, whether Catholic, Ugandan, classical, or vernacular. My studio projects in New Mexico and India that semester were among the most beautiful and memorable of my entire student career.
My second philosophy course was Ecology, Economics, and Ethics. The principles taught in this seminar course instilled a renewed sense of purpose into my career as an architect. It guided me towards becoming LEED accredited, it helped me argue the purpose of sustainable vernacular design for my thesis (a Ugandan marketplace, which won the Norman A. Crowe award for Sustainability), and it has guided my efforts in dozens of LEED-certified and historic preservation projects as a professional.
The formative effect that those two courses had on my life and my vocation inspired me to take even more courses beyond the core requirements. I took Daniel Groody and Virgil Elizondo’s
Latin American Spirituality, and Marriage and the Family (which I had to specially request from the Philosophy Department). Understanding the plight of Latin Americans, and the beauty of immigrant culture prepared my heart and mind for life with my Belizian-born aunt and her extended family of immigrants in Chicago. Critical-thinking about the role of working parents in their children’s lives has shaped my own family life, and given my wife and I courage to both work while still raising our child.
It doesn’t seem like much to take away one course from the requirements of the core curriculum. After all, the majority of the students at Notre Dame could care less about those requirements anyways. Most of us wouldn’t bother taking theology or philosophy courses at all if they weren’t a pre-requisite for graduation. I should know. I used to be one of those students. The University of Notre Dame has a wealth of knowledge and an ability to inspire students both within their careers, and beyond their careers. It has a unique power to shape the mind and soul simultaneously. The creative power of the Theology and Philosophy departments at Notre Dame is what sets Notre Dame apart from the Ivy Leagues. Those departments feed the minds that start ISSLPs, lead retreats, cook breakfast at the Catholic Worker, raise loving children, and defend the faith in the workplace.
As my brother, Fr. Patrick Reidy, C.S.C. once told me, “Priests are not called to evangelize the whole world. They are called to serve and minister to the people of the church. They are called to prepare the laity of the church to become evangelists themselves, through word and action in the world.” If theology and philosophy are left to only the theology majors and seminarians at Notre Dame, then the ability for the rest of us to evangelize suddenly begins to fade away. In the case of architecture, we begin to lose the “human element,” as defined and discussed by thousands of years of brilliant and holy saints and scholars.
Some of those saints and scholars are teaching at Notre Dame today. The school ought to find a way to make them more accessible to the general student population, not less. The ability that Notre Dame has to shape lives and careers is astounding.